For reasons of Covid-19 and poor weather, we have not been able to enjoy the sunshine much this year but with summer soon upon us, and May being Skin Cancer Awareness Month, it is worth reminding ourselves of what we need to look out for and what we can do to reduce our risk of skin cancers.
How is skin cancer caused?
Most skin cancers are caused by sun or tanning lamp/sunbed exposure. We can try and reduce our risk, when out in the sun, by using good quality sun lotions which protect against the ultraviolet A and B (also known as UVA and UVB) rays produced by the sun.
Other risk factors are:
- a close relative who has had melanoma skin cancer
- pale skin that does not tan easily
- red or blonde hair
- blue eyes
- several freckles
- previously damaged your skin through sunburn or radiotherapy treatment
- a condition that suppresses your immune system, such as diabetes or you take medicines that suppress your immune system (immunosuppressants)
- a previous diagnosis of skin cancer
What are the signs of skin cancer?
So, what is it we need to look out for? The first sign of melanoma (a skin cancer) is often a new mole or a change in the appearance of a new mole. It is worth getting checked out if you have a mole which is:
- getting bigger
- changing shape
- changing colour
- bleeding or becoming crusty
- itchy or sore
The ABCDE checklist should help you tell the difference between a normal mole and a melanoma:
- Asymmetrical – melanomas usually have two very different halves and are an irregular shape
- Border – melanomas usually have a notched or ragged border
- Colours – melanomas will usually be a mix of two or more colours
- Diameter – most melanomas are usually larger than 6mm in diameter
- Enlargement or elevation – a mole that changes size over time is more likely to be a melanoma
Melanoma can appear anywhere on your body, but they most commonly appear on the back in men and on the legs in women.
It can also develop underneath a nail, on the sole of the foot, in the mouth or in the genital area, but these types of melanoma are rare.
With early diagnosis and treatment, the outcome is usually good. If, however, there has been a negligent delay in diagnosis, the prognosis may be less favourable which the two case studies below illustrate: